Just Getting Started
Freemason Jeffrey Long MBE has chosen to spend his senior years embarking on epic walks for good causes. Matthew Bowen finds out why he’s not planning on hanging up his boots any time soon
Jeffrey Long’s flat in Bingley, West Yorkshire, is up a steep set of stairs. It’s the kind of place you might advise older relatives to move away from, but at 85, he’s right at home. Not looking a day over 70, Jeffrey has a firm handshake. ‘Excuse the mess,’ he says. ‘I moved into the place in 2009, but am only just finding the time to sort my things out.’
Beyond boxes of crockery and old trinkets, a scrapbook lies open, filled with press clippings and photos. Remarkably, most show Jeffrey as an older man. ‘I just didn’t have time to do all the things I wanted to do when I was working,’ he says, ‘and I’ve never believed in giving up.’
At 19, Jeffrey joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps to start his National Service. Duty took him to the Far East, dropping military supplies to British troops. He enjoyed serving – ‘Being fit and flying appealed to me’ – and it prepared him for a career with the Parachute Regiment, which he joined in 1952.
At the peak of his fitness, Jeffrey was battalion cross-country champion. ‘Hills were my speciality,’ he says, ‘and I’d always train in my army boots.’ After two years of service, however, he suffered a life-changing incident – his parachute misfired at 500 feet and, with no reserve chute, Jeffrey fell to the ground.
Unbelievably, Jeffrey didn’t break a single bone, but he did suffer excruciating back pain from then onwards. He stayed in service for a further three years, doing everything he could to get back to fitness. When doctors suggested a steel corset to help his back, he knew the end of his active military service was approaching.
Jeffrey joined a textile company after being discharged and spent much of his working life there, running a sales team. He took a four-year break in 1984 to study management, computing and accountancy, then worked as a project manager for the local council, before joining the British Transport Police.
Alongside his day jobs, he promoted Anglo-Swiss relations as the president of the Federation of Swiss Societies. Eventually, however, Jeffrey became so busy with charities that he didn’t have time to work.
Jeffrey had switched his focus to fundraising in the early 2000s following reports of soldiers being sent into the Iraq war without proper support. ‘I got so uptight with the government that I just had to do something,’ he says. Utilising his Swiss connections, he initiated and secured funding for a charity bike ride from London to Lausanne, Switzerland, in support of the Royal British Legion (RBL).
Despite being aged 75 and not a cyclist, Jeffrey intended to join the ride himself until a training injury scuppered his plans. Never one to admit defeat, he decided to walk the route instead, despite ‘not being much of a walker’. The 650-mile route took Jeffrey 39 days, solo and unsupported, through torrential rain and baking sun. He even walked the English Channel by marching back and forth on the ferry.
Modestly acknowledging the achievement, Jeffrey, who started the walk with a 35kg pack on his back, says: ‘It was quite a big thing to take on, but I knew a 75-year-old doing something like this would generate publicity, and that would lead to more cash for the Legion.’ The combined fundraising total of the walk and ride came to £142,000.
CLOCKING UP THE MILES
Buoyed up by the success of the walk, Jeffrey carried on. In 2009, he joined five firemen on a speed march to York. In the years following, he has undertaken a 90-mile route that included climbing three Yorkshire peaks, walked 127 miles between Liverpool and Leeds, and completed the length of Hadrian’s Wall – 84 miles – in his 84th year. ‘I even delayed a hernia operation to take part in a 12-kilometre [7.5-mile] assault course,’ he adds.
As well as the walks, Jeffrey organised 18 years’ worth of fundraising dinners while working with the St James’s Branch of the RBL, and received an MBE in 2010 for his efforts.
Born and raised in Bradford, Jeffrey’s a proud Yorkshireman who takes great delight in the stunning local landscape. Dressed in full military gear, he walks up the slope to Ilkley Moor’s Cow and Calf Rocks at a brisk pace, explaining that he doesn’t train because he doesn’t ‘have the time’.
So, what do Jeffrey’s friends think of his exploits? ‘People tell me I’ve done enough, that I don’t have to prove anything anymore,’ he says, ‘but it’s not about proving anything, it’s just that somebody has to do something.’
Jeffrey’s friend, 87-year-old Maurice Johnson, thinks he’s trying to wear his legs out completely. While expressing mild concern for his friend’s well-being, Maurice also acknowledges: ‘I could never achieve what he’s done. He’s a wonderful warrior for charity and always finds time to take on extra, when others would say they were too busy, or too old.’ Maurice is Treasurer of Helvetica Lodge, No. 4894, and the man who recommended Jeffrey to Freemasonry.
Jeffrey became a member of Helvetica Lodge 10 years ago and says it was an easy decision. ‘I’ve always believed in what the Freemasons believe about brotherly love, kindness and doing the right thing,’ he says. ‘I’ve been supporting others my whole life.’ In addition to raising more than £175,000 for charity, Jeffrey has spent time tutoring ex-offenders and volunteering at Bradford Day Shelter.
A few hours spent with Jeffrey is enough to convince you that he will never stop pushing himself physically, and mentally, to help others. He’ll do all he can to make a difference. Gazing over the spectacular views of Ilkley and beyond, he cheerfully remarks: ‘It won’t be long before I’m planning a 100-mile walk for my 100th birthday.’
Support Jeffrey’s ‘85 Miles for 85 Years’ fundraising walk at www.mydonate.bt.com/events/jeffreylongmbe